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Jane Fonda: from ‘vacuous’ bombshell to leading activist

Since bursting into the American consciousness in the 1960s, Jane Fonda has lived a life of controversy, tragedy, and self-discovery -- all in the public eye
AFP

Park City (United States) (AFP) – Sex kitten, Oscar-winner, peacenik, fitness guru, fashion model, cancer patient, feminist and political activist — Jane Fonda has spent her life confounding labels and surprising people.

Since she burst into the American consciousness in the 1960s, she has lived a life of controversy, tragedy, and self-discovery — all in the public eye.

The 80-year-old actress bares her soul in “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” a startlingly candid documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday.

“It’s about the importance of being brave and taking leaps of faith,” she said on the red carpet ahead of the screening in Utah’s Park City ski resort. 

“And it’s very hopeful because it shows how somebody that was kind of vacuous can become someone who has a more purposeful and meaningful life.”

The film mixes talking-head commentary from friends and ex-husbands, archive clips and Fonda’s own first-person account of her life, culled from 21 hours of interviews.

Set to air later this year on HBO, the film’s first four acts bear the names of the key men in Fonda’s life, from her film star father Henry through her husbands: Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden and Ted Turner. 

It’s in the fifth act — “Jane” — that the real Fonda emerges, and we see the one-time ingenue as a fully-rounded public figure who has become one of America’s leading political activists. 

The actress arrived on the Sundance red carpet fresh from addressing crowds as part of a nationwide Women’s March opposing President Donald Trump.

“I’m older and wiser, clearer and more focused. I’m more able, I think, to know what has to be done at a certain time,” she told AFP, asked how her politics have changed over the years.

“That’s why today at the march I spoke about the importance of going beyond protest to organizing on the ground.”

– Democracy ‘being stolen’ –

Fonda talked about taking back American democracy which she said was “being stolen from us” as the planet was “being destroyed.”

The documentary explores the pain of her mother’s suicide, 30 years of bulimia and three marriages to high-profile, sometimes difficult men. 

“The hardest (part) is always to talk about the things that are more difficult in your life — painful, emotional, difficult,” she said.

“But it’s not going to be a useful documentary that people can learn from unless I talk about the good as well as the bad.”

Born in New York in 1937, Fonda rose to global prominence in the 1960s starring in films such as “Barefoot in the Park” opposite Sundance founder Robert Redford. 

Her big breakthrough came in Sydney Pollack’s “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and she won her first of two Academy Awards for Alan J. Pakula’s “Klute.” 

She is still perhaps best known, however, for her earlier work in her first husband’s 1968 erotic sci-fi romp “Barbarella.”

Fonda’s political awakening came on the streets of Paris — her home for a short while — where she saw mass protests against the government of President Charles de Gaulle in 1968.

The documentary looks at her role as a leading figure in the anti-Vietnam war movement, including her 1972 trip to Hanoi when she outraged Americans by being photographed sitting on an anti-aircraft gun.

Beyond her peace campaigning, “Hanoi Jane” has long been a campaigner for women’s rights and recently stood up for native Americans protesting the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

– Life lessons –

She hailed female directors such as Greta Gerwig, Patty Jenkins, and Dee Rees, all of whom have made acclaimed movies over the last year, voicing hope that Hollywood was in a moment that would “amplify from here forward.”

“Women see things differently, we experience things differently, and if you don’t hear our tales, our narrative, then you are missing half the narrative and men are losers as well as women,” she said.

Sporting a bandaged face, she also opened up about her battle with skin cancer, days after revealing she’d had a growth removed from her lower lip.

“You live long enough or you’re a sun worshipper, you get cancer. So I’m dealing with it,” said the actress, who underwent a lumpectomy for breast cancer in 2010.

Fonda, whose Netflix series “Grace and Frankie” is about to begin its fourth season, was accompanied on the red carpet by Troy Garity, her son with Hayden and one of the film’s interviewees.

“She’s not insane but she moves through life at a furious pace and because of that has experienced a lot and learned a lot,” he told AFP.

“And I think the film has good lessons that we can all live by.” 

Asked if watching the premiere was going to be a difficult experience, he added: “I think I’ll enjoy it more than ‘Barbarella.’”

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